American Theatre: “Whitewash ‘In the Heights’?”

evita_marriottLast week, Chicago’s Porchlight Music Theatre released the cast list for its upcoming production ofIn the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes’s musical set in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City. Almost immediately, a number of people noticed that while a majority of the cast featured Latinos, the show’s lead and narrator, Usnavi—an immigrant from the Dominican Republic played by Miranda in the original Off-Broadway and Broadway productions—will be played by a white actor, Jack DeCesare. The creative team is also predominantly non-Hispanic white.

This news follows another Chicago casting controversy from earlier this year, when Marriott Theatre announced the cast for its production of Evita, a show set in Argentina, that featured only one Latino actor. Both cases highlight the persistence of what activists call “brownface,” which, similar to the practice of blackface or yellowface, refers to the casting of white actors as Latino characters. (In some contexts “brownface” can refer to white actors being cast as Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian characters, as in this current controversy.) Another apt term that groups all these outmoded practices under one shame umbrella: “whitewashing.”

Read the rest at American Theatre, part of my monthly “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion” column.

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